Results of Post-Austin Conference Survey
Introduction: Approximately 400 persons attended the 2016 Austin WAAFT Conference. This survey was sent out to 270 emails garnered from people who used PayPal to pay for the conference. Five of these emails bounced back as invalid. This resulted in a survey cohort of 265 possible responses. 79 persons responded to the survey, resulting in a 29.8% response rate. This is therefore a self-selected, non-random survey of those who attended the Austin WAAFT Conference.
Below are the Survey Questions in italics, followed by the results with some Observations.
How satisfied were you with the event? (79 responses): • 42 or 53.2% were very satisfied • 30 or 38.0% were satisfied • 5 or 6.3% were okay • 2 or 2.5% were dissatisfied Observation: A substantial majority of those who responded were satisfied or very satisfied with the Austin Conference. How would you describe your current belief system? Agnostic, Atheist, Freethinker, Deist, Spiritual, Religious, Other (79 responses): • Atheist 34 or 43.0% • Agnostic 17 or 21.5% • Other 12 or 15.2% — to include secular humanist, Wiccan, atheistic yogini, secular, spiritual, pantheist, etc. • Freethinker 10 or 12.7% • Nontheist 3 or 3.8% • Buddhist 2 or 2.5% • Roman Catholic 1 or 1.3% Observation: The majority of those who responded are Atheists (43.0%) or Agnostic (21.5%)with a wide range of other beliefs among us. What religious or spiritual tradition were you raised in? (78 responses): • Protestant 33 or 42.3% • Catholic 25 or 32.0% • None 9 or 11.5% • Jewish 4 or 5.1% • Protestant/Catholic 2 or 2.6% • Converted to Catholic 2 or 2.6% • Atheist 1 or 1.3% • Atheist/Christian 1 or 1.3% • Quaker 1 or 1.3% Observation: The majority of those who responded were raised either Protestant (42.3%) or Catholic (32.0%) with a range of other beliefs. When did you adopt your current belief system? Before or after you became a member of AA? (79 responses): • Before 53 or 68.8% • After 26 or 33.8% Observation: A majority of those who responded adopted our current belief system before becoming a member of AA. Have you been active in AA General Service work? If so, please describe (79 responses): • Yes 50 or 63.2% at various levels of AA Service ranging from group level to Area Level as well as Intergroup • No 29 or 36.7% Observation: A majority of those who responded have been involved in various levels of AA Service. How did you become aware of Secular AA? (79 responses): • Secular Meetings 19 or 24.0% • Internet 17 or 21.5% • AA Agnostica/Beyond Belief 16 or 20.3% • Relative/friend 15 or 18.9% • Conferences 9 or 11.4% (Including 4 from the 2015 Atlanta AA International Secular Panel) • Intergroups 3 or 3.8% Observation: There are many paths from which those who responded were attracted to Secular AA. Did you attend the conference in Santa Monica? If so, how did it compare with the Austin conference? (79 responses): • No 56 or 70.2% • Yes 23 or 29.8% • Yes, I especially appreciated that it included Phyllis H., GSO manager,and Rev. Ward Ewing, retired GSO Board Chair, who both are most supportive of secular AA. • Yes. Austin was more “official” and organized. Santa Monica will always be the first!! • They were similar. Austin was sad because of the Presidential election. • Yes. Great being part of first conference. • I preferred the Santa Monica conference. • Austin conference had more negativity • Yes, Equally worthwhile • Yes. Santa Monica was life changing. Austin was another conference — button as especially wonderful for me. Yet Austin was better organized and had more and better prepared sessions. The facilities at Austin were superior. My comfort was much better as I had stayed in motels in that area for many years — but the hotel was convenient to less expensive apartments (I usually stay at a Studio 6 just 500 feet from the event hotel for a couple of weeks each winter. • Yes, and I could see a tremendous growth with more speakers and great camaraderie. • They were both fantastic experiences. • Yes. Loved Ward Ewing’s speech in Santa Monica, however, Austin felt more organized. Was also nice having hotel on-site. • Both great • Yes and I preferred the conference in Santa Monica • Santa Monica more intimate and the venue was better but the content in Austin was superior. • misses santa monica conference b/c my other atheist group (freedom FROM religion foundation) had its annual conference the week before also in los angeles are…couldn’t do both….wish i’d chose the santa monica conference • There is nothing like the first one, I like Austin but there was such excitement in Santa Monica. • Both were outstanding the second built on the first in terms of focus and a way forward for our movement within A.A. • Austin event more professionally organized. • Yes, I like Santa Monica better. Although necessary, I felt like the tone of the Austin conference was a bit less heartfelt and more “political.” Again this was necessary in that we needed some procedural things decided, but Santa Monicafelt more recovery based. • Both were good…great fellowship and community-building at both…nice that the Santa Monica conference was in the city and restaurants, etc. were in walking distance…didn’t like being cut off from Austin in the satellite hotel but good that most of us were housed in one place…hope the Toronto conference will find us at a downtown hotel • Yes, Austin was bigger, more convention-like. • Yes. It was somewhat better. Santa Monica was more intimate with much better opportunities for networking. Austin was less intimate and to be honest attracted more of the “lunatic fringe.” Observation: A majority of the respondents did not attend SantaMonica, and there is a wide variety of comments comparing the two conferences from those who responded to the survey. Do you attend traditional AA meetings? (79 responses): • Yes 62 or 78.5 • No 19 or 21.5% If so, do you identify your secular, or nontraditional, beliefs? (72 responses): • Yes 45 or 62.5% • Sometimes 16 or 22.2% • No 11 or 15.3% (Including 3 who are fearful Observation: A substantial majority of those who responded (78.5%) attend traditional AA meetings. A majority of those who responded (62.5%) identify their secular, or nontraditional beliefs, regularly and another 22.2% sometimes do. Of those who don’t share their secular beliefs, 3 are fearful of doing so.
NOTE: WE ARE NOT REPORTING ON THE TWO QUESTIONS RELATED TO LIAISING WITH THE ICSAA BOARD.
What did you like best about the Austin conference? (76 responses): • Fellowship • The fellowship of travelling with three others to get there • Wide range of topics and panels; the opportunity to meet in person many other secular AA members with whom I connect online. • The organization, the people, the hotel… all great Free thinking & freedom to speak; to be myself. The smaller meetings • Discussions. Freedom to speak out. Meeting other secular AA’ers • Great organizers, lots of interesting topics and enjoyed the many smiles Variety of sessions. • The fellowship • The best thing about the Austin Conference was the chance to be with so many likeminded people. • Connection to other secular AA’s, variety of break-out sessions. Interacting with AA free thinkers from other countries. • Variety of offerings; panel discussions, women’s meeting, a few of the workshops, meeting people I knew on-line Panels with audience participation • Meeting fellow nonbelievers. Great workshops. Good selection of books. Loved meeting the people that host the websites and podcasts. • Since it was my first secular conference and was new to the entire experience I was overwhelmed with it all. • Secular AA Fellowship • Seeing old friends, meeting new ones Probably the facilities. And the workshops. • I loved meeting people that were in awe of being around others like them. The discussions were very good so soon after the USA elections and the pain many felt. Workshops • Meeting so many seculars in one place and having a voice. Yoga • Variety of topics, fairly well organized but not overly so, not super commercial Gathering of likeminded folks sharing diverse experiences. Got to meet the folks who post regularly. • The workshops and meeting so many likeminded AAs • Being myself in a group of like-minded people (for the most part) variety of sessions • Talking with folks • Being in a community of like-minded individuals working toward recognition and inclusion of secular AA. • I liked panels and the experience being among a global fellowship of likeminded folks. • meeting fellow-travelers • ?????? • Meeting new people and talking to people I’ve met before. • Being able to talk and listen to people that can communicate at an earthlylevel Sense of community and shared purpose. • all • Nice people Almost everything • workshops and getting to know some people Meeting people • Visiting with people between workshops and panels. • Learned more about history. Learned about challenges in creating atheist/agnostic/freethinker meetings. • Being with like minded folk • The wide variety of views shared (we seemed to get the balance about right on the program committee, which I was on, after some struggle there) and the reliance on our own membership (with the exception of Ms. Brophy) and the exclusion of outside and commercial speakers (like Rev. Ewing and Myra Hornbacher) that we fought so hard for. • Passionate individuals giving genuinely inspired presentations the selection of sessions to choose from • diversity; got my atheist in AA fix • It was small, manageable. Points of view I’d never heard expressed. The diversity • Variety of panels, meetings, etc • More people and more breadth in topics/panels. The business meeting ended up being productive and satisfying. • Amount of people. Great speakers All in one building • The friendly, open, TRULY free-thinking spirit, and very stimulating conversation, both in and out of formal sessions. I was invited to speak as a panel participant at two sessions, although I belong to a church. • sense of belonging • sharing time with others of like mind • The general vibe of friendliness, acceptance and belonging and meeting likeminded folks was my favorite. • Seeing friends from online, in person. • Seeing sober people who don’t insist on traditional [Christian] religion as necessary to being sober • knowing that I am not alone in finding the “God talk” unhelpful Ability to speak freely & be myself • good that most of us were housed in one place Being with other atheists • Someone handed out a N.Y. Times article; “God, Belladona or both.” Bill W.’s drug induced White Light experience. • The wide range of topics on th schedule very well organized from beginning to the end. • enjoyed the many work shops • Getting to meet people that think differently than the Christians I’m surrounded by. The Meditation workshop. • The individual speakers and panels • A nice variety of workshops and topics. • The speakers, the program and the AA meetings hosted by difference cities/groups All of the like-minded people. • Although the program was uneven, there was a lot of it, which I like in a conference. What did you like least about the Austin conference? (73 responses): • Nothing • The location. The hotel was good but poorly situated • The strident atheist voices who argued against secular AA being involved within AA General Service work • Some of the break out rooms were too small. No one at hotel to greet the night before start of conference. • The militant atheist approach is just as off-putting as the bible thumpers The big speaker meetings • Hotel location far from restaurants • Interesting Panels scheduled at the same time as other interesting panels • Cliquish. • The lack of good keynote Speakers. • Being out in the suburbs. It made going site seeing for a short amount of time difficult. • Denigration of traditional AA, internal squabbles within the board. Space for some of the break out sessions were crowded • angry athiests • Too many workshops to choose from at each time. • Some of the separate meeting rooms were a little crowded. Otherwise can’t think of one other negative aspect! • The descriptions of the various events could have been better. It was difficult to choose which to attend. • Suburban hotel away from Austin I had a cold • I attended none of the meetings and only looked in to say hi when a person I knew from my visits to their groups happened to be there. I visit secular meetings wherever I travel and seeing another one is little interest to me. • Having to walk by the Preacher’s Wedding Anniversary was awkward. Too far from city centre • Too many events at the same time I wanted to attend. It was all good • I would add one or two small “break” type rooms where people could talk/ discuss the topics that come up or get to know one another – this does happen in hallways and so forth but I would like to see more emphasis on coming together and getting to know other secular AA folks • Political comments from podium. Business meeting was a joke (i.e. voting on by-laws that hadn’t been published). • There were so many good options that I sometimes found it hard to choose which event to attend • Some sessions were too crowded; singer at dinner actually sang Amazing Grace… Wtf? • Poor tape quality, poor audio throughout… As I am hard of hearing it was brutal And the tapes I brought back were echoes and lousy sound…. geez • There was nothing in particular • The venue was very isolated – too bad since Austin is a cool city. • The seating in the smaller rooms were inadequate. The banquet dining options were not inclusive. I am a pescatarian, and my friend is vegan. • Over too quickly • Location away from downtown Austin • The politics. • There is nothing worse than a born again anything. So much hate of the differences. More activity’s. meetings etc. • Infighting and general nastiness of the business meeting. crowding at break outs • No time or ability to experience Austin 2 • Short time between workshops, no main social event for fellowship • The contentiousness of the business meeting, Atheist fundamentalist, and a few people that were overtly rude to the Grapevine rep. • location too far from Austin • I was embarrassed at the treatment of Ami Brophy, the Executive Editor Publisher of the AA Grapevine. She should have been a Keynote speaker to address the entire convention. • Many high importance workshops were on Friday, with very few on Sunday. If possible, just a Friday night welcome dinner/big meeting, then workshops Saturday all day and Sunday until early afternoon. Would be great to attract more young people. • The venue. It was a terrible, depressing location. Nice staff but what a terrible place. • Discussions about “how spiritual” secular AA should be hotel location sucked and hotel itself was a bit dreary Some sessions were too full. Angry people. • That I couldn’t experience a little bit of the Austin music scene AND, now that I think about it, the rancor at the business meeting was eye opening and upsetting. Not a walkable location, not much shopping,’eating or sight-seeing walking distance Didn’t get to attend all of the panels and talks. • Was running for a board position but missed a critical meeting because it was not clear to me that I was required to be there. Poor communication. • Having to wait 2 years for the next one. location • it was in the boonies • We need more people to come out to the meetings and out of the closet in AA and to these conventions too. • Angry, male-centric tone … what I felt was a very power/control driven tone and agenda on the part of some. • Can’t think of anything I didn’t like • Rabid anti-spirituality and anti-AA/Steps comments; I left early on Sunday – couldn’t take any more • I was only able to stay for part of the weekend and it seemed too short Militant atheists are as off-putting as evangelists • didn’t like being cut off from Austin in the satellite hotel • I liked it all very much • I wish I would have bought CD’s • Politics • Their seemed to be a lot of bashing aa by several people at the conference. while my differences vary differently with traditional aa i am very greatful for the program as written. • Most of the workshops contained little to no information on corresponding science (psychology/philosophy/biology/neurology etc) supporting/tying into the steps (except the one on meditation). In the 1 workshop that could obviously be tied into any step, the speaker seemed so intimidated by the attendees that he couldn’t mention which steps his philosophy tied into. Was this a conference meant to network people with differences in belief systems, an opportunity to learn and challenge oneself to grow through acquisition of knowledge and new ideas or validate and justify anger and resentment? • I could only go for one day, since my daughter lives in Austin. • A few of the sessions were not very polished. There was also a fair amount of anger and dissention that made me uncomfortable. • The hotel was too far from downtown, with very few options for walking to restaurants. I also am not in favor of traditional religious leaders (priests, ministers) leading sessions at the conference. • Events being held at the same as other events. Can’t attend both. • The Austin conference was already a little shy on opportunities to mingle due to its physical set-up, so when the one social event was cancelled at the last minute, yeah, that was what I liked least about the Austin conference. The fact that we needed to settle some painful organizational issues did not help the atmosphere, nor did the result of the American presidential election. But don’t get me wrong – I’d do it again. How often should there be an International Secular AA conference? (75 responses): • Every year 19 or 25.3% • Two years 38 or 50.6% • 2—5 years 2 or 2.6% • 3—5 years 5 or 6.6% • Five years 3 or 4.0% • Not sure 7 or 9.3% Observation: A very slight majority of those who responded suggest every two years. What would you like to see at other conferences? (63 Responses): • Medical/scientific insights into addiction • Emphasis on science of addiction to include the latest neurological findings, such as latest research on use of psychedelic substances in treatment of addiction. • More opportunity to meet people from other areas & hear their stories • More regional conferences so more people can attend. This organization feels very elitist. None of my sponcees could afford to take off work & take a trip to Toronto. I’m sure many people in AA can’t. • More of the same More workshops. • The name ICSAA changed to ISAAC Live webcasts for those who cannot attend. • A variety of panels, workshops and good speakers. • A variety of relevant topics for presentations and workshops. Stories about secular AA history. Talks by people from the GSO. I believe inviting people from the GSO will help build relationships between secular AA and traditional AA and this will help acceptance of non-traditional groups within AA. • Encourage representation from NY GSO. I liked the feeling of being with others who were willing to examine and question their own personal journey (free thinkers) without disparaging traditional. There’s a need for both. • How to start a secular mtg was good I don’t understand this question • More countries represented. More authors presenting their books. T-shirt sales! • ? • No good answer other than more of the same–maybe later. A little more entertainment would be nice. • Social get together More GSO participation. • Austin had nice mix. Maybe more on taking meetings into institutions • Would it be wrong to bring in outside AA folk like Tony Rosen, Gabor Mate, Sam Harris, Hemant Mehta • Talented folks out there. Can imagine a great skit. More speakers, workshops for newcomers Atheist/Ag old timers panel • some common goal and call to action – mutual goals ? Hah! More people • Lots of information from non-AA approved literature and other media. I’d like to have AA believers who support us have a place at our table. More help with starting a group. • ?????? • Some more focus on how to start new meetings. At the first one we had well attended workshop about that. I think we could have one each time. • More meetings marathon’s Friday evening dance. Organized city trip etc.. • More diverse speakers (ideas/backgrounds), would love way to somehow identify/connect with Secular AAs from my state/local area while at the conference. If I hadn’t already known folks from Santa Monica, I would’ve never known who the other Colorado folks were. Perhaps voluntary participation in a Secular AA phone list and/or directory published before or during the conference so that folks can connect in person? • surprise me • More time for fellowship without having to miss content Workshop on Secular meeting topic development. • I would like to see us invite GSO and the Grapevine and to treat them respectfully and allow them to address the convention. I would like to see an organized effort to get secular people involved in General Service to learn how we can affect change in AA. • More young people A naturist meeting • More real Atheist speakers (younger that Cameron and myself) and panels and no more representatives from traditional AA (like the Grapevine) on the platform. They are more than welcome to attend of course but it’s our conference that should be exclusively for and by our own membership. As I have pointed out many times as an example I don’t wish to speak at Catholic AA retreats (of which there are many around here) and if I were, for some reason, inclined to do so it would be inappropriate in the extreme. • 2016 was excellent, all I can think of would be nice to have organized transport for non-conference outings (dinner/night on town etc.) or means to coordinate with groups for such • nothing comes to mind Same • Online access for those who can’t make it, audio or audio visual • Let’s use the next conference to foster more 12th Step work. I am especially enthusiastic about local secular A.A. groups helping Sobriety Courts and government funded rehabs avoid running afoul of the 1st Amendment as always happens when non-believers are legally coerced into attending A.A. meetings and praying for God’s help. We won’t “convert” most A.A. members, but we can help newcomers who might die without a wider, secular gateway. • Secular AA should be incorporated into the AA International Conventions • Maybe a panel of people like myself who belong to traditional AA and to a religious denomination: What we can do to make secular AAs feel more welcome. • more people • 1. meeting on methods big and small on how to encourage others to “come out” at AA meetings.
2. How to promote secular meetings while still observing the “attraction rather than promotion” tenet…aka Balancing traditions 5 and 11…and their religious (or lack thereof) privacy. • More focus on a variety of breakout workshop sessions. More support from AA (GSO) • Don’t care; not going again lots of meetings • More regional conferences so more people can attend. Most AA members can’t afford to be off work & travel long distances. • more on ways to connect with/positively influence traditional AA; broadening the path to sobriety in AA by accepting drug addiction without prejudice; other ways to bring the program up to date, ie developing promotion of AA work, gathering reliable data on the program’s effectiveness in conjunction with medical/rehab professionals; redefining “anonymity” in contemporary terms • Literature • I would like to see Bill W reincarnated from the dead, admitting religion/spirituality is just another mood altering substance and otherwise a bunch of shit. Steps 1-12 What the science’s have to say Mindfullness – Babysit Your ThoughtsStaying in the moment-How to direct your obsessive thinking Spiritual Term Intolerance – Make up your own fucking definitions Morning affirmations – Communicate with yourself My previous love affair with Booze New options for New Focus Step 3 – How to sit still and allow Step 4 Rewiring your neural network Step 5 – Get it out of you for relief Step 6 – Do you want to change Step 7 – Make a plan to work on each defect Steps 8&9 -Psychological studies review Step 11 – An in depth look at the Neurological/ Biological effects Step 12 – Share so you can see where you were and love without expectation The 4 Agreements – Options on implementation • Stand-up comedy/entertainment • more explanation of other belief systems • More diversity; a venue closer to downtown (Toronto seems to have taken care of that concern) • Entertainment and more free time to explore the local scene. • Better mingling. Better programming. I’ve been involved in a professional conference — these things take work and evolve over time. Demographic Analysis: Location by Country: USA 67 Canada 8 Britain 1 Location by State: AZ 1 CA 10 CO 2 FL 5 GA 2 IL 5 IN 1 KS 1 MD 2 MI 1 MO 1 MS 1 MT 1 NE 1 NV 2 NM 1 NY 3 OH 1 OR 3 PA 2
TX 12 VA 1 VT 1 WA 7 WI 1 Gender (79 Responses): Female 32 or 40.5% Male 47 or 59.5% Age ( 76 Responses): 32 1 (youngest) 40s 5 50s 24 60s 31 70s 14 86 1 (oldest) Length of Sobriety (72 Responses): One year or less 14 1 — 5 years 10 5 —10 years 9 10 — 15 years 6 15 — 20 years 3 20 — 25 years 5 25 — 30 years 7 30 — 35 years 7 35 — 40 years 10 Plus 40 years 1 Concluding Observations: 1. It is most gratifying that a substantial number of responses from this survey indicate that our members are committed to continuing the evolution of our secular AA special purpose group fully within the AA General Service structure in accordance with AA’s history, traditions and concepts of survey. 2. The ICSAA Board would like to thank those who responded as they have provided us and the Host Committee with excellent information to assist us in planning for the 2018 Toronto Conference.